“Professor Armitage! Professor Armitage!” Rex banged at the heavy door. “Come quickly.”
The old man opened the doors, still wiping the sleep from his eyes.
“Mr. Murphy? How late is it? Did you find Warren?”
“No time to explain. There’s a rougarou in Louisiana. We’re going to find it!”
“I’m sorry. A what?”
“No time to explain!”
Rex grabbed the aged professor by the arm and pulled him out in to the street in the direction of the train station.
Zoey stepped gingerly and watched as her foot sank almost to the knee into the fetid muck of the bayou.
“This place smells of rot and death,” she said.
“It’s the bayou, ma cherie. You should enjoy the local color of this fine state while you can.” Rex breathed deep. “Ah. Smells like America.”
Zoey narrowed her eyes.
“Go. Find the beast so that I may kill it.”
“Okay. Come on, Dr. Milan. Let’s go investigate.”
“What are you doing here?” Zoey demanded. “I saw you felled by that beast at the university.”
Doctor Milan shrugged.
“I got better. Mr. Murphy asked me to come.”
“Hurry, Dr. Milan! There are clues to be found!”
“I guess I’ll see you later then.” Dr. Milan glumped through the bayou after Rex deeper into the wilderness.
Some time later, shortly after the fifth time that Rex declared a broken twig made it look as though a rougarou had passed through, Dr. Milan spied lights.
“Careful, Mr. Murphy. Those lights could be anyone.”
“Hello!” Rex called, stepping out from Dr. Milan’s cover and discovering a cabin patched and repaired innumerable times. “We are searching for clues as to the whereabouts of a rougarou! Could you offer any help?”
A shriveled man stepped out, holding a shotgun at his side. Thin suspenders laid across a bare chest of tight, weathered skin.
“Eh? Sounds French. You’d best go ask that voodoo woman, Esprit, about that.”
“I think they prefer ‘following the loa’ to ‘voodoo,’ but thank you for your help. Where could we find her?”
“Back in the bayou.”
“Thank you. Say, that wouldn’t be a rougarou trap you have there?” Rex asked pointing at a rusted thing on the cabin’s wall.
“Sure. What’re you offering?”
Rex rooted through his pockets desperately, looking back at Dr. Milan who still cowered in the brush.
“I have these berries. Found them in the underbrush. They taste good.”
“Hmm.” The old trapper picked at a curly hair on his chest. “I do make my living with this trap. Can’t be much of a trapper without a trap.” He stroked the metal. “But you make a good bargain. It’s yours.”
“Thank you kindly, good sir!” Rex rejoiced. “We’ll take care of that rougarou for sure.”
The trapper pulled the trap from the wall and threw it at Rex’s feet.
“Enjoy. Don’t go getting your hand caught in it. It’s got a tendency to stick.”
Rex rushed back to the brush and out to the bayou with his new tool, Dr. Milan going more slowly, carefully picking his way around the deepest points.
“We have to find a woman named Esprit,” Rex announced. “She knows how to find the rougarou.”
“Lady Esprit?” a police officer asked.
“Maybe. Who are you?”
“He’s a police officer. He offered his assistance when I explained our cause.”
“‘To serve and protect.’ That’s my motto.”
“Isn’t it every officer’s motto?”
“No. Pretty sure it’s all mine.”
“Hm. You were saying about Ms. Esprit?”
“Lady Esprit? She doesn’t live too far from here. Not five minutes, if I remember right. She knows things.”
“Lead the way, officer.”
The shack the officer led them to was a rough thing, barely in better condition than the trapper’s home, but its smell was something else, overpowering even the bayou’s rot. The odor was heavy smoke but with something lying just underneath, something that burned at the nostrils. Before Rex could knock at the door, a woman’s voice commanded him “Come in.”
Rex walked in, and Zoey followed. The others stayed outside. Somehow the inside was both larger and smaller than expected from the outside. While Rex had the off-balancing sense that the inside dimensions were longer and wider than outside, the walls were filled with shelves, themselves filled with jars and vases and totems innumerable. Smoke permeated the room, making Rex’s eyes water, but he could not see its source. He could only see the vaguest silhouette of a woman sitting deeper in the cabin.
“We’re looking for a rougarou,” he said.
“Yes. The story of our suffering has spread. Will you kill it?”
“I should think so. Ms. Samaras here has already demonstrated herself a dab hand at the old violence.”
“Good. I believe that the only way to remove this curse is to kill the accursed.”
Rex nodded. “Sounds right to me.”
“And I am sorry.”
“Oh? For what?”
“For your friend.”
Zoey maintained her usual mask, but there was a twitch in her cheek that Rex had never noticed before. He made to reach for her, but she turned on him with fire in her eyes and he stayed his hand.
“Go. Kill the rougarou to save yourselves. If you should be in pain, come to me, and I will do what I can.”
Outside Zoey released a long-held breath ragged at its edges.
“Zoey? Are you okay?”
Zoey grabbed Rex by the shoulders in a grip far stronger than he had expected. Her fingernails dug deep into his flesh.
“Do not get in my way, little man, or there will be blood. Where is the rougarou? This curse will be released.”
“Maybe try New Orleans? Lots of people for a rougarou to kill there?”
Zoey snorted and bounded off through the bayou, the police officer just barely keeping pace.
Rex took a second to adjust himself.
“Did she seem different to you?”
Dr. Milan shrugged.
“I don’t really know her.”
“Not a little longer in the tooth? Not coarser of hair?”
“In any case, we need to do our part in killing this rougarou. I’m going to set up my rougarou trap.” He looked around. “This looks like the sort of place a rougarou would walk through, right?”
Rex dropped the trap to a dry place and dropped some leaves over it.
“I guess we wait now. How long do you think we’ll have to wait?”
Dr. Milan winced at a piercing shriek in the distance.
“Either a very short time or a very long time.”
Rex had only the briefest moment to register the blur of grey as it flew past before there was a clatter of metal. The blur turned into a rolling ball before it stopped in a splash of brackish water. The thing that emerged was something like a wolf but something too like a bat but something more vicious, more vile than any of them.
“Begone beast!” Rex shouted from a safe distance and behind cover. “Or taste my blade!” He rattled a fire ax but not so much that the rougarou might see it.
The beast gave a moment’s pause, head swiveling, but another shriek of rage came from whence it had come. It gave a final sniff before loping away.
Zoey and the officer followed not long after.
“Did you see it? Where did it go?”
Rex pointed toward some unhallowed country, and Zoey roared off.
“Well, I think we did our part, yes?” Dr. Milan asked. “No one would blame us now if we leave the rest of the work to Ms. Samaras. She does seem much better suited to it than us.”
“But there are clues to find! Now we have seen the rougarou and its path. We will be able to learn so much more about it now. Let’s go into New Orleans.”
It wasn’t long after Rex and Dr. Milan were looking into the unique horrors of the disarmingly named Garden District that another howl pierced the air. They could not tell whether it was Zoey or the beast. Leaving Broadmoor for the bayou, they heard the howl again and thought they caught sight of something moving at a ferocious limp. Dr. Milan demurred from investigating any closer.
“Where did it go?” Zoey demanded. Both men jumped at the voice appearing behind them.
“Where did what go?” Dr. Milan asked tentatively.
“Do not toy with me, fat man,” Zoey threatened. “You know what I seek. I thought I had found a foe worthy of my steel, but instead it runs from me. I hunger for blood, and yours will do.”
“Now, now, Zoey,” Rex stepped back. “It may please you to know that we have been investigating the beast’s tracks in New Orleans, and I think we have learned some things of interest.”
“What?” Zoey demanded.
“Well,” Rex stepped back again, “it might not be so beastly as you think. There appears to be some humanity left in it. We found one of its victims, and it seemed to use a fork and knife in eating the body. That does not seem too beastly to me. Perhaps you could talk to it? Maybe it won’t run from you so quickly if you aren’t hacking at it’s limbs with a machete?”
“Talk? I desire blood now!” Zoey raised her blade high. Rex stepped back again only to stop against a tree. Dr. Milan ducked into the turgid water only to feel something large pass along him. There was a splash of water, and the water grew dark with blood. The heavy thing fell away in the current. Dr. Milan opted not to look too close after it. “Perhaps that will sate me.” Zoey pushed through the water.
“Where do you think that officer got to?” Rex wondered as Dr. Milan wiped scum from his face.
“I don’t think I care to know.”
“Hm. Feel like doing some investigating?”
“Okay. Then we’ll wait.” Rex looked down at his leg. “Though I might just step out to deal with this leech.”
It wasn’t much longer that Zoey returned.
“Perhaps it will be easier to seek another solution to our difficulties with the beast,” Zoey admitted. “Most of the work has already been done. It has been contained by your trap, and we have weakened it. Also I risked madness in a forsaken place, but I found this binding stone that may calm it.” Zoey revealed a small stone that shone iridescent in the moonlight. “And I understand that you have learned a great deal about this curse.” Rex stood straight and nodded at the compliment. “There may be another way after all.”
A thing of tentacles and teeth and skin of puss erupted from the bayou’s waters, something not native to this or any land.
“Go!” Zoey shouted. “My frenzy comes upon me again! Find the solution to this quest.”
Dr. Milan was already running, and Rex ran to catch up, Zoey’s battle cry ringing in his ears.
“What do you think you’re going to do with that stone?” Dr. Milan asked when they were far enough that the sounds of battle were not so clear.
“I don’t know, but I trust that the answer will reveal itself when the time comes.”
Somewhere nearby was the sound of snuffling and rolling in mud, metal clanging against stone. It smelled of wet dog.
“I don’t think I can do it,” Rex whispered.
“Just throw it. See what happens,” Dr. Milan whispered back.
Rex gave the binding stone an underhanded toss and ducked to the side in case the rougarou could follow its origin.
The sounds of thrashing and violent howls of pain started even before Rex could duck all the way down. He closed his eyes tight, but it only made it worse as his imagination filled in the edges of what could possibly be happening, what could be coming. In his mind he saw the rougarou jamming broken claws into his belly, but Rex still could not bear to open his eyes.
Finally the sounds stopped. There was the light tread of small feet rapidly disappearing and a faint shout of “Don’t let it take control. Control the curse as I could not.”
Rex stood up and brushed himself off.
“Huh. That wasn’t so bad. Assuming Zoey is still alive, I think we did pretty well.”
He kicked at the rougarou trap, closed on nothing, its rust hidden behind blood.
“I think we learned a lot down here. I’m sure it will help us a great deal as we investigate the disappearance of Dr. Rice.”